No funds for sports, music halls of fame in latest state spending plan

ATLANTA — The Georgia sports and music halls of fame are completely defunded in the latest version of the fiscal 2011 state budget, which is likely to pass the Georgia House of Representatives this week.

It’s possible — and maybe even likely — that some or most of the $1.01 million the museums were slated to share in state money will make it back into the budget as it moves to the state Senate for further tinkering. Legislators have flirted with a complete defunding in the past, but lawmakers settled instead on a gradual phase-out of the state funding that makes up the vast majority of both museums’ budgets.

And although the House hasn’t set aside money for the halls in the budget, there’s no plan in place to actually shutter the buildings and warehouse the state’s collections of music and sports memorabilia, said state Rep. Butch Parrish, chairman of the House budget subcommittee that deals with the halls.

“We’re a long way from being finished with (the budget),” Parrish, R-Swainsboro, said Monday.

The House often has been harsher with the halls than the Senate, and state Sen. Cecil Staton said he’ll try to get the funding restored once the budget moves to that chamber. Staton, R-Macon, said he’s already received some positive feedback from other senators on the issue.

But there are “no guarantees in this game,” Staton said.

The halls have been popular targets the past few years as legislators looked for cuts to balance a state budget that has included cuts for all state departments. There’s been a push to move the museums to Atlanta, and defunding the halls in Macon could move things in that direction. Some argue that running museums shouldn’t be part of the state government mission at all, and the state Senate passed a bill this year that basically puts the halls on the market in case another entity wants to buy them.

Bibb County and NewTown Macon are both pushing to take on the halls, with the County Commission talking about buying the two buildings in downtown Macon from the state. But the commission’s deal calls for the state to refund the amount of money the county would pay for the buildings so the money could be used as an endowment to run the facilities.

It’s not clear whether that plan will pass muster with the state, but Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart met briefly with local legislators Monday to discuss it.

Meanwhile, Staton hopes to breathe new life into a measure that would increase the local hotel-motel sales tax by a penny on the dollar to help fund the halls, replacing some of the state funding. That measure died in the House after heavy lobbying against it from the hotel industry and the state’s convention and visitors bureaus, and Staton is hoping for better luck in the Senate.

Basically, Staton and other local legislators are holding out hope that the halls can remain in Macon and that they can remain open.

“Our backs are against the wall,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “But it doesn’t mean the fight’s over.”

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.